Watteau – Drawings at the Royal Academy

Cataglogue cover image from the Watteau exhibition.

Watteau: The Drawings at the Royal Academy is showing until the 5th June 2011. I visited last week and loved the versatility and immediacy of his trois crayon technique.

I suppose I am a bit of a heathen when it comes to art history; I don’t know enough of it and my efforts to learn have amounted to very little to date. I feel like I ought to, and that’s never a good way to achieve anything. To be honest though, for me, the art is far more interesting than the history.  I want to be profoundly affected by what I see, to be moved, into silence, stillness and obliviousness of the inevitable crowds. Beyond that I tend to adopt a rather mercenary approach: what can I learn?

So what of Watteau?

The comparison (highlighted in the labels at the exhibition) of Watteau’s early and later works was fascinating, particularly as with drawings from different periods often on the same sheet, direct comparison was easy and I could see what Watteau had learned and how his drawings had changed in the intervening years. It was fascinating to see an accomplished master developing his work in this way.

I know embarrassingly little of Watteau’s paintings so the thumbnails of his paintings in the labels of their respective studies were both a useful prompt to seek them out elsewhere and a fascinating glimpse into his working process.

Trois Crayon

There is a great deal to be learned here; from the energy of gesture and line to the development and differentiation of edges and  the immediacy of the trois crayon technique, with red white and black chalks on toned paper. The highlight for me though was the connection he created with his subjects, most apparent in the studies and Savoyard drawings rather than the fashionable fêtes galantes.

I found Watteau’s trois crayon technique surprisingly varied but still disciplined and very painterly. He seemed to work quite differently when drawing for the sake of drawing, rather than as a study for a painting.

I love the trois crayon technique but I rarely see it. Notable exceptions to this were the relatively recent Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which showed Lawrence’s beautiful and astonishingly subtle trois crayon drawings.

More contemporary examples include the work shown by Theresa Oaxaca on her blog.

Useful information:

Watteau: The Drawings is on until the 5th June 2011

Royal Academy opening times: Monday – Thursday and Saturday 10am-6pm, Friday 10am – 10pm

Nearest tube: Piccadilly(Piccadilly/Bakerloo lines) or Green Park (Piccadilly/Victoria/Jubilee lines)

If you haven’t seen the Watteau Drawings exhibition yet, go! If you have, tell me what you think in the comments.